The Woodlands came into the 2017 season as the back to back 6A state champions. They were also fresh off of winning the 2017 UIL 6A state championships in track and field. On top of that, head coach Juris Green and the staff had just won the USTFCCCA coach of the year award in Texas as well as the national award.
You would think the program would be on top of the world. However, tragedy struck the team hard and then more unforseen obstacles were to come.
In July, the team lost teammate, Tanner Noble to his untimely death. Noble was not just a teammate, but a big part of the heart and soul of the program. While trying to recover from that and attempting to prepare for the current season, Hurricane Harvey came in August and added an extra blow.
Through all of that, the Highlanders were able to stick together and pull things together to get back on track with their season and their lives.
Their community along with the other communities in the state of Texas that were affected by the hurricane are doing their best to recover and the team is doing their best to overcome the loss of their classmate, teammate, and friend. They have honored him all season and have ran their way to recovery as well.
Part of that recovery included winning their third straight UIL 6A state championship. They went undefeated on the season and have capped off the regular season with that third title. They accomplished it the only way they know how and that is running together as a pack and competing as brothers.
They won one of the most wide open races in a long time. The Woodlands scored 88 points to earn a narrow six point win over Southlake Carroll's 94 overall points. Senior Gavin Hoffpauir led the way with his individual runner-up performance. He ran a very confident-savvy and patient race. Hoffpauir kept contact with the lead pack the entire race and positioned himself to be able to move into the top three and hold off those trying to out kick him at the end.
His teammates were back in the race doing the same thing. The rest of his Highlander teammates put on ferocious kicks to make up a ton of ground over the last 800m or so. For those that don't know, the Southlake Carroll train is real and it is lethal. They are perhaps the only team in the state that runs tighter than The Woodlands. In this race, SLC ran to a very impressive 15:41 team average with an insane 19 second split. The Dragons were in perfect position to claim the title until that last ditch surge by TWHS. That surge was the only thing that could defeat the type of SLC team performance they showcased on this day. TWHS ran a 15:36 average and they had a 37 second split. The most important stat of them all was the 88 total points.
El Paso Eastwood won the third place trophy as they established themselves as solids in that top team discussion and will make the NXN South Regional a very interesting race. Eastwood took third with their 123 point total and 1:00 split.
In the individual race, we mentioned Hoffpauir blazing to the line for the runner-up, but he was preceded by Flower Mound sophomore Jarrett Kirk. Jarrett ran a pretty similar race to Hoffpauir. He was kind of stalking and sitting in the lead pack until he mad an unmatched move when he jolted to the front. It was Kirk and Hoffpauir chasing Amarillo Tascosa senior WES MCPHAIL until the point Kirk took off.
Coming into the race, Kirk wasn't even the favorite to win. His teammate and All-American ALEX MAIER was the clear favorite to win the race. The expected challenge was to come from McPhail. Both Maier and McPhail beat Kirk just a week and a half ago at the Region I-6A meet. Nevertheless, it was Kirk who put together the winning formula for the 6A title.
Just a year ago, Kirk was a 17:01 PR freshman who wasn't even in the Flower Mound top seven that ran at the state meet and earned the third place trophy. He has truly put in the work that has earned him the success and respect he has achieved all year, but he also showed it takes guts to win the title. Coming down the home stretch, you could see him struggling to stay on his feet long enough to finish the race. However, he ran a gutsy race and left no more than just enough in the tank to barely finish the race. Today, he wakes up with a two minute PR and has gone from cheering on the team in one year to waking up the day after the state meet as the UIL 6A individual state champion.